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IFEX Communique Vol 16 No 50 | 11 December 2007

Ifex Communiqué Vol 16 No 50 | 11 December 2007

The "IFEX Communiqué" is the weekly newsletter of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), a global network of 81 organisations working to defend and promote the right to free expression. IFEX is managed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (www.cjfe.org).

Sign up for IFEX RSS Feeds: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/78635

INDEX

FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT: 1. IFEX Members and Partners Commemorate International Human Rights Day

REGIONAL NEWS: 2. One in Six Jailed Journalists are Held without Charge, Says CPJ 3. Mexico: Local Reporter Shot Dead 4. Tunisia: Journalist Given One Year Jail Sentence in "Unfair Trial"

TAKE ACTION! 5. Send a Message to Bahraini Youth Leader Facing Legal Trouble

PRESS FREEDOM MISSIONS: 6. Free Expression Deteriorating in Belarus, Mission Finds

AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS: 7. RSF Announces 2007 Press Freedom Champs 8. Lebanese Journalist Wins Arab Newspaper Award

JOB NOTICES: 9. IPI Seeks Press Freedom Manager, Press Freedom Adviser

EDITOR'S NOTE: The list of alerts issued from the past week is no longer carried in the "IFEX Communiqué". Instead, IFEX has launched a new product: the "IFEX Digest", which offers a twice-weekly, one-stop overview of all the alerts issued in recent days, packaged together with references to additional sources on the same cases, and grouped by region, country and story.

FREE EXPRESSION SPOTLIGHT

1. IFEX MEMBERS AND PARTNERS COMMEMORATE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY

IFEX members and partners around the world marked International Human Rights Day on 10 December - the 59th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - by promoting freedom of expression and by calling attention to violations in some of the world's most troubled hotspots. Check out what some of them got up to.

AFRICA

During 2007, conflict-ridden Somalia became the most dangerous country for journalists after Iraq. So the National Union of Somali Journalists with ARTICLE 19, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net), Amnesty International and the local UN rep celebrated Human Rights Day by showing solidarity with Somali journalists, focusing on the bloody fighting in Mogadishu that has forced journalists to flee the country, and the impunity of attacks against the media. - http://somalinet.com/news/world/Somalia/13909

While once heralded as one of Sub-Saharan Africa's freest countries for the press, Uganda has plummeted in the ranks over the past two years following the enactment of anti-terrorism legislation and the tightening of controls on the media, especially in the run up to the 2006 general elections. So says a new report released on Human Rights Day by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in Uganda, "In Defence of Media Freedom in Uganda". The impressive publication gives the lowdown on media freedom since the 1900s, looks at legal limitations and a flawed access to information act, and explains the wider human rights situation in recent months. For a copy, email FHRI at: publications(@)fhri(.)or(.)ug

ASIA

In Bangkok, Thailand, Mizzima News reports that Burmese activists rallied outside the UN regional office on 10 December upon the arrival of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to draw his attention to the continuing human rights abuses in their country and to urge him to initiate concrete steps instead of just talking to the junta. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur to Burma said recently that at least 31 people, not 10 as was initially reported, were killed and up to 4,000 people were arrested during the military government's crackdown. - Mizzima News: http://tinyurl.com/2xywtd - "The Irrawaddy": http://tinyurl.com/2zkocy

Meanwhile, in Burma itself, leading human rights defender U Myint Aye organised a closely watched ceremony at his home. Nearly 100 people attended, including some local militia members of the junta "who call themselves people too." - Democratic Voice of Burma: http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=749

Some of the "most patriotic Malaysians citizens" were in for a surprise when the police arrested eight of them - many of them lawyers - for peacefully marching to observe Human Rights Day, or what the authorities call "illegally assembly". According to Dr Anwar Ibrahim, ex-Deputy Prime Minister and a former prisoner of conscience, the arrests "represent nothing more than scare tactics we have seen used in the past by the Malaysian government as it prepares to unleash the draconian measures of the Internal Security Act." It's the third significant demonstration for human rights in the past few weeks, all of which the authorities banned and reacted to with violence. Check out a video of the demonstration here: http://tinyurl.com/25v7yv

For human rights activists in Pakistan, 2007 was one of the darkest years in history. Five weeks into their campaign of protests since President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and brought in anti-media laws on 3 November, journalists in Pakistan linked arms with the rest of civil society and observed 10 December as a black day. Taking part in a protest outside the Lahore High Court and seminars and workshops throughout the day, they vowed to continue fighting for their economic, professional and basic human rights until they were restored. In an interview with Pakistan's "Daily Times", Imtiaz Alam from the South Asian Free Media Association said, "Nothing can possibly stop us from expressing ourselves. We are ready to face all consequences." - IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5583&Language=EN - "Daily Times": http://tinyurl.com/32a9rq

EUROPE

In Turkey, new IFEX member the Initiative for Freedom of Expression draws attention to how the courts are celebrating a whole week of human rights: "by trying academics, politicians, artists, writers, publishers and journalists for expressing their ideas. The programme will be on all through the week in İstanbul, İzmir and Şırnak. All welcome, it is free." Many of the defendants are being tried for "insulting Turkishness" or members of the state. See: http://www.antenna-tr.org/dunya/first_page_en.asp for this month's free expression cases.

MIDDLE EAST

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), along with the Libyan League for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), chose Human Rights Day to remind French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he was dealing with one of the world's worst "predators of rights and freedoms" by receiving an official visit from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on 10 December. RSF activists protested outside the National Assembly in Paris, while the Libyan League and FIDH sent a letter to Sarkozy reminding him that no deals should be made with Libya unless Gaddafi drastically transforms his human rights record. - RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24704 - Libya League/FIDH: http://www.fidh.org/spip.php?article4994

INTERNATIONAL

Freedom House marked Human Rights Day by demanding that nations who claim to support "freedom" should pledge to strengthen international institutions dedicated to human rights, many of which are weak or currently being threatened. Just look at Kazakhstan's strangely successful bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), says Freedom House, despite repeatedly failing to meet the OSCE's own election standards and openly supporting proposals to weaken the organisation. http://tinyurl.com/22h4tn

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for a new global campaign to free the press from restrictive laws and end the prosecution of journalists designed to silence investigative reporting. "Press freedom is under attack in many countries and journalists find themselves in the dock often on trumped up charges accused of defamation or endangering national security or undermining government and the authorities. Whenever such an attack takes place, everyone suffers. When access to information is blocked and journalists are muzzled the public loses its 'right to know'," says IFJ. - http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5584&Language=EN

RSF dedicated this 10 December to the 130 journalists in jail for trying to keep us informed. RSF is calling on the media to "break the silence" which often surrounds arrests of journalists by sponsoring an affected colleague and spotlighting their plight. - http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24660

Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan: Amnesty International says these are five areas of the world "human rights are being violated, neglected and eroded with audacity and impunity by governments, big business and armed groups." Read the whole statement here: http://tinyurl.com/2dmtnk

And then take action. So says Amnesty International Canada, which is asking you to shine your own light on human rights by taking at least one action to mark the occasion, from writing a letter as a part of Amnesty's global write-a-thon, "Write for Rights", to signing Amnesty's electronic appeal calling on a moratorium on taser use in Canada. Check out their other activities here: http://www.amnesty.ca/writeathon/

Finally, in the lead up to the 60th anniversary of Human Rights Day, the UN launched "Dignity and Justice for All of Us", a worldwide campaign to stop human rights abuses by governments, businesses and others. "The Declaration remains as relevant today as it did on the day it was adopted," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he announced the new campaign. "But the fundamental freedoms enshrined in it are still not a reality."

For more information on International Human Rights Day, visit: http://www.un.org/events/humanrights/2007/

REGIONAL NEWS

INTERNATIONAL

2. ONE IN SIX JAILED JOURNALISTS ARE HELD WITHOUT CHARGE, SAYS CPJ

One in six journalists jailed worldwide are being held without charge, many for months or years in secret locations, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

CPJ's snapshot of imprisoned journalists as of 1 December found 127 behind bars, the majority of them for anti-state allegations such as divulging state secrets and acting against national interests. The figure is in keeping with the average number of journalists arrested yearly since the introduction of sweeping national security laws in the wake of 11 September - in 2000, there were only 81 imprisonments.

But the proportion of journalists held without charge increased for the third consecutive year. Eritrea and Iran were the main perpetrators, but the United States is also guilty: U.S. authorities have not filed charges against Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj, held for more than five years at Guantánamo Bay, or Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, held in Iraq for more than 19 months. And at least 19 journalists worldwide are being held in secret locations, with Eritrea the worst offender.

"Imprisoning journalists on the basis of assertions alone should not be confused with a legal process. This is nothing less than state-sponsored abduction," CPJ says. "While we believe every one of these 127 journalists should be released, we are especially concerned for those detained without charge because they're often held in abysmal conditions, cut off from their lawyers and their families."

For the ninth year in a row, China is the world's leading jailer of journalists with 29 journalists behind bars, 18 of whom worked online, including Shi Tao, an award-winning journalist serving a 10-year sentence for sending an email about Chinese media restrictions on the Tiananmen Square massacre. Bloggers, online editors, and web-based reporters constitute about 39 percent of journalists jailed worldwide.

Cuba (with 24 journalists behind bars), Eritrea (14), Iran (12), and Azerbaijan (9) round out the top five jailers among the 24 nations that imprison journalists.

CPJ's list does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year, or those who have disappeared or been abducted by non-state entities; details of those cases can be found on CPJ's website at: http://www.cpj.org

Check out the full report here: http://tinyurl.com/2xp864

AMERICAS

3. MEXICO: LOCAL REPORTER SHOT DEAD

A newspaper reporter who covered agriculture and occasionally crime in the central state of Michoacán, Mexico was shot dead last weekend, report the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica, CEPET), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Gerardo Israel García Pimentel, who wrote for the daily "La Opinion de Michoacán", was found dead in the parking lot of the hotel in which he lived in Uruapan, the second largest city in Michoacán. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), two gunmen shot him at close range at least 20 times on 8 December.

RSF says a brother and a cousin of his are reportedly missing.

Colleagues say they weren't aware of any motives for the murder. Reporters at other newspapers in the state told CPJ that García was considered a low-key reporter, not likely to aggressively pursue sensitive stories or those related to organised crime.

Although the motive is still unknown, "the way García Pimentel was apparently pursued before he was killed suggests he was personally targeted," RSF says. According to CEPET, the investigation will be handled by the federal authorities.

IAPA also reports that Juan Pablo Solís, the owner of a local radio and television station, was abducted on 7 December by a group of armed men in the city of Tuxpan, Michoacán. His whereabouts remain unknown.

According to the press freedom groups, Michoacán is one of the Mexican states hardest hit by violence because of its powerful drug cartels. IAPA says the Mexican government has been trying to crack down on drug cartels in the area by setting up highway control points, carrying out searches and arrests, and locating and dismantling points of drug production and sales. But this year alone, there have been 335 murders and numerous kidnappings reported in the state, according to IAPA.

Earlier this month in Michoacán, two police chiefs were killed, along with Sergio Gómez, the lead singer of the nationally known musical group K-Paz de la Sierra. According to "A New Front in Mexico," a CPJ report released in November, journalists have died, gone missing or suffered beatings in the state for covering drug trafficking or violence linked to it.

Visit these links: - CEPET: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/88585/ - IAPA: http://tinyurl.com/2ulhep - CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2jyzlg - CPJ, "A New Front in Mexico": http://tinyurl.com/2ly74a - RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24697

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

4. TUNISIA: JOURNALIST GIVEN ONE YEAR JAIL SENTENCE IN "UNFAIR TRIAL"

Five months after human rights lawyer Mohamed Abbou's early release from jail, a Tunisian journalist has been sentenced to one year in prison following an unfair trial, say the Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia (OLPEC), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members.

On 4 December, Slim Boukhdhir, a freelance journalist known for his outspoken views on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime, was jailed for a year for "insulting behaviour" towards an official and violating public decency. He also was fined for refusing to produce his identity papers.

Boukhdhir, who often writes for the London-based, pan-Arab newspaper "Al Quds Al Arabi" and the website of the satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, was arrested in Sfax on 26 November.

"The hope of an improvement in press freedom that followed the release of human rights lawyer Mohammed Abbou in July has evaporated," says Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Boukhdhir's lawyers have denounced the verdict as a sham and say they believe that his conviction is in retaliation for his coverage of human rights violations under Ben Ali. They are planning to appeal the "unfair and politically motivated" court decision - the judge denied Boukhdhir's right to challenge the allegations made by two witnesses handpicked by the police.

It is not the first time Boukhdhir has been targeted; he has staged several hunger strikes in recent years to protest government harassment and the authorities' refusal to grant him a passport. In May, shortly after writing an online story critical of the first lady's brother, he was assaulted by what he believed were plainclothes police as he left an Internet café in Tunis.

Neziha Rejiba of OLPEC and editor of the locally blocked online magazine "Kalima", told CPJ that "critics and dissidents are treated as criminals since President Ben Ali seized power."

Visit these links: - OLPEC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/88158/ - CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/yqyoz7 - RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24637 - Other IFEX members' alerts on the IFEX-TMG website: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/index.html - "Kalima": http://www.kalimatunisie.com/
TAKE ACTION!

5. SEND A MESSAGE TO BAHRAINI YOUTH LEADER FACING LEGAL TROUBLE

Mohammed al-Maskati is a young activist from Bahrain who has fought for human rights across the Arab world, from rallying for jailed Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer to making local media outlets aware of human trafficking activities. Now he is facing serious legal issues that could end his career. Show your support by signing a petition and expressing your outrage through your own organisations, media contacts or blogs.

Al-Maskati, head of Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, is currently on trial for running an unregistered NGO. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights and other groups are supporting his case. The Arab Program for Human Rights Activists (APHRA) says it is just the latest example of the government using judicial measures to silence human rights activists.

APHRA is asking the Bahraini government to drop all charges brought against al-Maskati and to immediately release him. APHRA also invites authorities in Bahrain to revise their laws and regulations to be in accordance with the international conventions signed by Bahrain, including the international covenant on civil and political rights that guarantees the right to free association.

Send your solidarity message here: http://tinyurl.com/27e23h

PRESS FREEDOM MISSIONS

6. FREE EXPRESSION DETERIORATING IN BELARUS, MISSION FINDS

The government of Belarus has failed to make progress in improving free expression conditions over the past two and a half years, even further stifling journalists and writers, Norwegian PEN and the International Publishers Association (IPA) found on a mission to the country last month. And the European Union should not engage with Belarus until improvements have been made, the mission report says.

For the second time in three years, Norwegian PEN went on a fact-finding mission to Minsk and Hrodna (300 km west of Minsk) from 14 to 18 November, this time with IPA and the Norwegian Union of Journalists. "The lack of positive change has led us to conclude that the Belarusian authorities at the initiative of President Alexander Lukashenko have sought to further stifle freedom of expression in the country," says Carl Morten Iversen of Norwegian PEN.

Iverson was referring to President Lukashenko's continued control of the media through administrative tactics, which ensures that "the view of the opposition never gets across to the majority of the people." Defamation laws have been adopted without debate. All media outlets and organisations must register with their local authority, and registration can be denied or recalled at any time. The government also controls the distribution of books and newspapers through state bookstores and kiosks and a national subscription system. Book publishers must go through an arbitrary publishing licence system - owned and operated by the government.

The mission found that the independent press in Belarus also faces fines for critical journalism, lack of state advertisements and restrictions on access to information. Meanwhile, Belarusian language and culture, deemed to be the "language of the opposition", is severely restricted.

The mission members are demanding that the European Union not engage in the European Neighbourhood Policy with Belarus until the country has made progress in the freedom of expression and freedom to publish fields.

Specifically, Norwegian PEN and IPA recommend that the Belarusian authorities repeal all criminal defamation laws, abolish arbitrary registration, distribution and licensing systems, and open spaces for public debates before pushing through excessive legislative changes.

These recommendations and others are detailed in the mission report, "Freedom of Expression in Belarus", available here: - Norwegian PEN: http://tinyurl.com/22bf2d - IPA: http://tinyurl.com/2fa396

AWARDS AND FELLOWSHIPS

7. RSF ANNOUNCES 2007 PRESS FREEDOM CHAMPS

Six champions of free expression, including an Eritrean journalist behind bars and an organisation that exposes violence against journalists in Iraq, are this year's winners of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) - Fondation de France prizes. The awards pay tribute to organisations and individuals who commit themselves to promoting free expression, often at great risk to their lives.

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye was chosen as journalist of the year. A prominent journalist who resigned as head of national television and then radio in protest at the authoritarian direction President Issais Afeworki was taking, Tsehaye has been in an unknown jail since 2001.

Demonstrations by Buddhist monks and the crackdown that followed put Burma at the top of the news agenda in September. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norwegian-based news agency run by Burmese exiles, won this year's media prize for being one of the most reliable sources of news during the crisis.

The Journalistic Freedom Observatory in Iraq, established in 2004, was awarded the press freedom defender prize for its role in exposing violence against journalists. Most of the founding members had themselves been victims of police brutality.

Kareem Amer, a young Egyptian blogger who is serving a four-year jail sentence for criticising Islam and the Egyptian President, is the laureate in the "cyber-dissident prevented from informing the public online" category.

Finally, less than a year to go before the Beijing Games, RSF has awarded a special "China" prize to husband-and-wife team Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan. The human rights activists are under house arrest but continue to try to keep the local and international communities informed of the damaging effects of the preparations for next year's Olympic Games.

To learn more about the winners and the runners-up, visit: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24645

8. LEBANESE JOURNALIST WINS ARAB NEWSPAPER AWARD

A journalist at the French-language daily "L'Orient-Le Jour" in Lebanon has been awarded the 2007 Gebran Tueni Award, the annual prize from the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) that honours a courageous and independent editor or publisher in the Arab region.

Michel Hajji Georgiou, a member of the newspaper's editorial board and chief of its yearly political supplement, received the award for his determination to defend independent journalism in Lebanon. The newspaper "takes bold editorial stands regarding the government, Lebanon's relationship with Syria, and Hezbollah and other radical groups," says WAN.

Hajji Georgiou has called freedom of expression "the soul of a democratic system. It is Lebanon's added value in an Arab world often made of tyrannies, and abandoned to intellectual desertification."

Receiving the award at the Arab Free Press Forum on 9 December, Hajji Georgiou dedicated the award to his colleagues and to jailed journalists and prisoners of conscience, including Syrian Michel Kilo, who is being held in a Syrian jail for signing a petition that called for better relations with Lebanon. At the forum, participants denounced Syria and other governments that had prevented some participants from attending the event.

The prize honours the memory of Gebran Tueni, the Lebanese publisher, WAN Board Member and press freedom advocate who was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005. It carries a 10,000 Euro (US$14,700) scholarship to enable Hajji Georgiou to undertake advanced newspaper leadership training.

Read more about the award and the Arab Free Press Forum here: http://www.wan-press.org/tueni_award/articles.php?id=1097

JOB NOTICES

9. IPI SEEKS PRESS FREEDOM MANAGER, PRESS FREEDOM ADVISER

The International Press Institute (IPI), an international press freedom network of editors, media executives and journalists based in Vienna, Austria, is looking for a Press Freedom Manager and a Press Freedom Advisor.

The Press Freedom Manager plays a key role within the IPI management structure, including managing the work of IPI's Press Freedom Advisers. The Manager is also responsible for overseeing and developing IPI's press freedom programme, including planning IPI's missions and other advocacy/outreach activities and developing press freedom in a particular region. Applicants must have at least three years experience of managing people and projects in the field of human rights, preferably in the areas of press freedom and freedom of expression, as well as a willingness to travel.

The Press Freedom Adviser will carry out IPI's press freedom activities in a particular region. Responsibilities include: advising and reporting on press freedom issues, developing and overseeing projects and programmes in the region, and liaising with donors, local coordinators and sponsors. Applicants should hold a degree and should be able to demonstrate either experience or in-depth knowledge of the human rights field, preferably in the area of press freedom. A willingness to travel is essential.

For both jobs, applicants should have strong written and spoken English skills at the level of a native English speaker.

To apply, send your CV and a brief covering letter explaining to David Dadge, International Press Institute, at: ddadge(@)freemedia(.)

The "IFEX Communiqué" is published weekly by the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). IFEX is managed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (www.cjfe.org) on behalf of the network's 81 member organisations. The views expressed in the "IFEX Communiqué" are the sole responsibility of the sources to which they are attributed.

ENDS

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